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Commodore 64 iPhone emulator approved, yanked

Apple approves controversial Commodore 64 emulator only to remove it days later, after users find a work-around to access the BASIC interpreter.


The Commodore 64 emulator application for iPhone, previously rejected by Apple, was approved for availability in the App Store over the weekend, only to get pulled days later.

Apple blocked the sale of the iPhone app, dubbed C64, from the store on Tuesday without explaining why, according to developer Manomio. And while Apple was not immediately available for comment regarding the C64 app, which is designed to enable users to play classic Commodore 64 games and run applications, Manomio says it believes that the yanking is related to an available work-around that enables users to activate the Commodore BASIC interpreter, a feature behind the application's initial App Store rejection.

As outlined in the iPhone Blog on Sunday, the BASIC interpreter could be accessed via the C64 app by enabling "always show full keyboard," starting a game, paging over to the Extra keyboard, then tapping Reset.

"Unfortunately, with all the submitting and changing we made for Apple, we inadvertently re-enabled the Reset button," Manomio CTO Stuart Carnie said. "And since all the games have a custom control panel, we completely missed the keyboard issue. I'm not sure how we can address this...It was actually quite a surprise that the release happened on Saturday."

Leaving an opening for that Reset work-around was a "simple mistake" on Manomio's part--it "wasn't intended to be an Easter egg," as some media outlets are touting it, said Carnie, who added that the back door to the BASIC interpreter has been blocked in a subsequent update to the C64 app that the company has submitted for review. In the meantime, iPhone users who purchased the C64 app before it was pulled can continue to experience retro gaming and experiment with the BASIC interpreter.

Anything capable of allowing the entry of programming code and generation of an offshoot app could be a security risk to the iPhone and its users. Apple is strongly opposing such capabilities in iPhone applications, but if a BASIC interpreter is implemented properly in a sandbox environment, there should be nothing to worry about, according to Manomio.

Although the BASIC interpreter enabled via the work-around, according to Manomio, indeed operates in a sandbox environment that completely separates the two operating systems, the developer has yet to convince Apple that it is incapable of harming the iPhone's operating system. If the developer continues to meet opposition on that point, it will be forced to develop a new release that effectively removes access to BASIC permanently.

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Commodore International released the Commodore 64 in 1982. Originally priced at $595, sales eventually totaled 30 million units, making it the best-selling single personal computer model of all time. The 8-bit home computer featured advanced video and audio hardware, as well as a whopping 64K of RAM and a zippy (for its time) 1.02MHz central processing unit.

Perhaps proving the Commodore 64's lasting popularity, Manomio sold more than 7,000 copies of the $4.99 app between its release on Saturday and its pull-down on Tuesday, meriting temporary placement in the App Store's Top 50 category for paid apps in 28 countries, according to Carnie. C64 had been bundled with five licensed titles: La Mans, Dragons Den, Arctic Shipwreck, Jack Attack, and Jupiter Lander.

Are you are former Commodore 64 user who is interested in reliving the past by coding in Commodore BASIC, spending long hours typing a program in from your favorite magazine, or running a favorite retro game? Let us know in the comments.